September 25th, 2008

Damon Brown is a fellow sex in games journalist who writes for Playboy and The New York Post, among others. He’s also, it should be noted in the name of full disclosure, a friend. His book, Porn and Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider, and other sexy video games changed our culture, came out this fall from Feral House.

A pop culturist, Damon Brown uses Porn and Pong — five years in the making — to connect the important events in the history of sex and video games with similarly important events occurring in the world at large. As he mentioned in our interview last spring, his book presents links that shed new light on the games we know and love, games that Brenda Brathwaite already listed in detail in her own book, Sex in Video Games. Those links include, for example, ties between the AIDS crisis and the release of Leisure Suit Larry, between the birth of home porn and the birth of video games, and between the popularity of the modern reality television series and The Sims.

Brown brings something new to the table. By looking at titles that contain sexual content within their mainstream context, Brown elevates the discussion of these games to an important level. It’s not enough to state that sex in games exists, or that people react to it. Like any element of video games, sex is also an artistic response to the world going on around its creators. Understanding that gives us insight into both sex in games and ourselves as artists, consumers, and players.

I do, however, wish that Brown had been more direct in stating the important of his approach. His chapters often present two histories — the history of the moon landing and the history of Lara Croft, for example — without spelling out the relationship between them. In many instances, he sets up his evidence for a meaningful argument about the culture that creates these games, then moves on before drawing his conclusions. Instead, the reader is left to establish for him/herself what it means that 9/11 occurred in the same year as the release of Grand Theft Auto III, or that Ellen Degeneres came out around the same time as lesbian characters appeared in Fear Effect.

This is a very well researched, well written book about the history of sex in video games. To someone who doesn’t know much on the topic (or far too much, as my case may me) it would doubtless offer a fascinating time line. Still, I can’t help but feel that Brown would have an outstanding book on his hands, not just a good one, if he had gone a few steps further and interpreted his historical parallels. As it stands, Porn and Pong reads like a series of parallel events that help situate sex games through the years: almost like coincidences. What were the underlying factors that caused these pop culture match-ups? Readers are left to speculate while the pop culturist himself holds back on what we — or at least I — really want to know.

The official release party for Porn and Pong is tomorrow. I’ll be sure to report back with photos!

Tags: books, reviews

5 Responses to “Review: ‘Porn and Pong’ by Damon Brown”

  1. Woodstock Says:

    Hmmm. At the risk of sounding like “flalout was BEFORE bi0shock!!!111!!!”, I think you meant to write (or Damon meant to write) that GTA 3, the first mainstream, 3D iteration in the series, was released in the same year as 9/11. The top-down original was actually released in 1997 ;-)

  2. Woodstock Says:

    Actually, though, (to post a useful comment), I think it’s interesting how the marginal status of games influenced how edgy they could be in the early years. Despite a few high-profile controversies, games were out of the mainstream, so it was a lot easier to have content that wouldn’t fly in movies or TV at the time. Now I think we’re catching up in popularity to other media, so that luxury is denied us.

  3. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Note and corrected. Thanks, Woodstock!

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